This Week In AFLCMC History – May 27 - June 2, 2024

  • Published
  • By Air Force Life Cycle Management Center History Office
27 May 1949 (Tinker AFB/Bombers Directorate)
Seventy-five years ago today, Tinker AFB’s Oklahoma City Air Materiel Area accepted its first B-36 Peacemaker. Designed to fill the U.S. Army Air Forces need for an intercontinental-ranged strategic heavy bomber, the B-36 flew too late to play a role in WWII, and never saw combat; but it served as the backbone of Strategic Air Command’s nuclear deterrence mission in the early Cold War, until it was replaced late in the 1950s by the B-52. Tinker was designated the B-36’s repair facility in 1947. The first Peacemaker arriving on 27 May 1949 was undergoing modification work, including the installation of GE J47 jet engines.
28 May 2014 (Maxwell AFB-Gunter Annex)
On this date, ten years ago, Maxwell AFB’s new “Freedom Park” was dedicated and opened to base families. Montgomery civic leaders and the local community helped fund the project through a federal government-local government collaboration program, and it was “dedicated to military families at Maxwell and Gunter.” The on-base recreational park included a playground area, a running area, and a soccer field, and cost around $400,000 to build. 42nd Air Base Wing commander Col Trent Edwards cut the ribbon with local government officials, including Montgomery Mayor Todd Strange. Leaders from Wetumpka and Prattville also contributed to the success of the project.
29 May 1934 (WPAFB/Propulsion Dir.)
Ninety years ago today, Frank Walker Caldwell and the Hamilton Standard Propeller Company received the 1933 Collier Trophy for their work in developing a controllable- or variable-pitch propeller. Caldwell was the original and longtime head of propeller R&D at Dayton’s McCook Field and then at Wright Field, from 1917 to 1928, before moving to industry to capitalize on his experience. The adjustable pitch propeller could change the angle of attack of its blades in-flight, akin to changing gears in a car or bike, allowing aircraft to operate efficiently at different altitudes. Nearly every aircraft flown by the U.S. Army Air Forces during WWII utilized propeller innovations Caldwell helped spearhead during his career.
30 May 1974 (WPAFB/Bombers Directorate)
On the morning of May 30, 1974—50 years ago—a Boeing B-52H Stratofortress crashed while making a ground-controlled approach (GCA) to Wright-Patterson AFB. The bomber’s rudders and elevators failed, resulting in the accident at 2:07 a.m. Although its crash landing completely destroyed the B-52 (tail number 60-0006), all seven crew on board survived the accident without serious injury.
31 May 1956 (ISR & Special Operations Forces Directorate)
On this date, the 4080th Strategic Reconnaissance Wing at Turner AFB, Georgia, received the first RB-57 (s/n 53-3973). This was a D-model of the British-built B-57 Canberra light bomber, redesigned for a high-altitude strategic reconnaissance mission. This first aircraft, 53-3973, would eventually make its way to Wright-Patterson AFB, where it would be used in tests and as an airborne photo target. Unfortunately, it crashed in Beavercreek, Ohio, in January 1964 when one of its wings failed, narrowly missing Beavercreek High School. Its pilot, Capt Gerald E. LyVere, survived the accident with only minor injuries after ejecting.
1 Jun 1994 (Fighters and Advanced Aircraft Directorate)
Thirty years ago today, Maj Jacqueline “Jackie” Parker arrived at the 174th Fighter Wing at Hancock Field, New York, to begin mission qualification training in the F-16. On graduating, she became the first female F-16 pilot in the Air National Guard. Five years earlier, in June 1989, she’d become the first female pilot to graduate from the U.S. Air Force Test Pilot School, as part of Class 88B. She began college at 14, graduated at 17, earned her private pilot’s license, and interned for NASA after that—becoming the youngest full-fledged NASA mission controller at 18. But she wanted to fly, and so completed Officer Training School in 1980 and earned her Air Force wings at Reese AFB, where she also served as Reese AFB’s first female T-38 instructor pilot.
2 Jun 2004 (Eglin AFB/Armament Directorate)
On this date, 20 years ago, a GBU-39 Small Diameter Bomb (SDB) struck an offshore floating target about 21 miles off the Florida Gulf coast. The 250-pound guided bomb, developed by the Direct Attack Joint Systems Program Office, was meant to increase weapon loadout for fighters and bombers while still doing some of the same work that 2,000-pound penetrating munitions then performed. The increased accuracy and lower yield was also meant to focus the lethality of the weapon to decrease undesired collateral damage. The SDB passed its first live weapons test later in 2004, and saw its first combat use in 2006.
Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander Heritage Month Highlight:
Col Ellison Onizuka, the First Asian American in Space
In January 1978, NASA announced its historic first class of astronauts for the Space Shuttle program. The astronaut corps until then had been largely homogenous: white, male, and almost exclusively military (or ex-) test pilots. NASA recruited this new group of 35 to fully staff the shuttle missions, which carried up to 8 crew members each and was hypothetically slated to fly dozens of times per year. With only two of the shuttle’s seats slated for the flight crew, the door was open for non-pilots and civilians to apply. The 1978 class represented a diverse cross-section of America, albeit a high-achieving one, including a number of “firsts”: 6 women, 3 African Americans, a Jew, and an Asian American (and Buddhist)—Ellison Onizuka.
When asked his thoughts on representing a minority at the time, Onizuka remarked, “I didn’t realize I was one.” That sentiment reflected his upbringing as a Japanese American born in Hawaii (another “first”), where his ancestry was common. His grandparents were among the thousands of Japanese laborers who flooded into Hawaii in the late 19th Century and became an integral part of island life, in contrast to the experience of similar immigrants to the mainland US. Nowhere was this more extremely demonstrated than in the aftermath of Pearl Harbor. Over 100,000 Japanese Americans on the West Coast were interned for the war, while those in Hawaii—which had actually been attacked by the Japanese—largely were not. Authorities there initially made some mass arrests of those of Japanese ancestry, but largely left those communities intact. The context mattered: Japanese Americans made up about 1/3rd of Hawaii’s population, were an accepted component of the community, and comprised much of the workforce needed for the War effort. The military governor enforced martial law that effectively secured the Territory without internments, while enabling it to function as a critical military installation.
Ellison Onizuka was born after WWII on the Big Island of Hawaii and earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Aerospace Engineering at the University of Colorado through the Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) in 1970. He served as a flight test engineer for Air Force Logistics Command and attended Test Pilot School at Edwards AFB, where he was working when NASA’s call for shuttle astronauts went out.
Then-Maj Onizuka had his initial flight in 1985 as a Mission Specialist on the all-military crew of the first dedicated Department of Defense shuttle mission, which deployed a classified satellite and made him the first Asian American in space. He immediately began training for mission 51-L, scheduled just a year later and included the “First Teacher in Space,” but tragically made history as NASA’s first in-flight accident when a failed solid rocket booster during launch resulted in the destruction of the orbiter Challenger and the loss of all seven crewmembers, including Onizuka. He was posthumously promoted to Colonel and memorialized with an Air Force facility and the Kona, Hawaii, airport named for him, along with numerous other streets, buildings, and facilities.
US Passport holders may notice a quote by him among its pages: “Every generation has the obligation to free men’s minds for a look at new look out from a higher plateau than the last generation.”